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We combed through every issue of the magazine, Instagram post, and YogaJournal.com story to bring you our favorite instructional tips from teachers this year. Take them with you next time you unroll your mat and tackle the trickiest asanas.
1. Get More Out of Prasarita Paddottanasana: Turn Those Tootsies In
For flexible people, Wide-Legged Forward Bend can feel like a mid-flow throwaway pose. But pack more power into this inversion meets deep hip opener by fully extending the hamstrings—without sacrificing the engagement of the front of the thigh. (Knee caps draw up!) To do that Little, our fave New Mexico yoga mensch, offered this toes-turned-in variation in August’s Home Practice. Can’t you feel your low back spread wide already as you rotate those active thighs outward? We can.
Prasarita Paddottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend), Variation
Angle your feet inward; fold forward. Center yourself, then swing to your right and hold your ankle; pull to side-bend your left trunk. Hold for 2 minutes; switch sides.
Get more great tips from Tias Little’s August Home Practice
2. Trick Out Your Trikonasana: Focus on the Transition
If everything is yoga, why do we fuss and fidget for half the time we should be breathing and opening in the pose? Maybe because we know where we are going but are less sure how to get there. Rather than wrestling the hand to the outside of the instep and collapsing your nicely extended ribcage as you work your way into bound Triangle Pose, these step-by step instructions simplify the bind. (We even bolded the hand placement because we know you yogis will debate that!)
Bound Triangle (Baddha Trikonasana)
1. From Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior Pose II, with the left foot forward, place the left hand on the instep side of the left foot. Ensure that the back toes are turned in about 45 degrees and the back heel is down.
2. Extend your right hand to the sky, then wrap it behind your back. Feed your left hand under your left thigh until the hands clasp.
3. Firming the back leg, gently press your hips forward as your chest and torso rotate toward the sky, then begin to extend the left leg until it is completely straight. Engage the quads and spread the front toes for balance.
4. Bring your drishti over your right shoulder, and take 5–10 breaths before changing sides.
Get more tips from December’s Yogapedia
3. Bye-Bye, Jump-Through Struggles: Embrace the Halfway Point
When your yoga mates float gracefully in and out of arm balances as if their core can steer their legs, while you suffer through what feels like a sloppy jump back or flog yourself for not nailing your Crow to Chaturanga, take heart. Kino MacGregor’s “Halfway Point” is the tip you need. MacGregor marks it as a key step to #nailingit. Once your body can float through, you’ll be ready for the reverse: Plank to Crow. (Or maybe that’s 2015.)
Punctuate Your Pose By Hitting the Halfway Point
Next walk your left foot forward, cross your shins, and point both knees between your arms to come to the hallway point. Keep your hips just a little lower than your shoulders. If they’re too high, you won’t be able to complete the movement. If they’re too low, your hips will sink into the floor. This halfway point is crucial in determining the success of the jump through.
Students that never learn to hold their weight here will often use “cheats” props like blocks or lifting the wrists to jump through. While this halfway point bears some similarities to Lolasana (Pendant Pose), there are two crucial differences. First, the shins are crossed to allow for an easy and more seamless transition to seated, second, beginners should not worry about lifting their feet off the ground. Instead, for now, simply focus on keeping your body supported from below.
Watch the video: Jump Throughs with Kino MacGregor
4. Meet Kathryn Budig’s “Panini Press:” Say Hello to Your Inner Thighs
As you explore classes with master teachers like Kathryn Budig, you begin to pick up on their signature pose tips. At Yoga Journal we love Budig’s “Panini press.” Not only does it make a forward bend wonderfully excruciating but it tones the inner thighs to make us feel tough and ready for big inversions as well as solid standing poses. Here’s how Budig makes our fave forward flop into a yogic challenge.
Standing Forward Bend Inner Thigh Strengthener
TRY placing a block between your upper, inner thighs on its narrow side. Put a small bend in your knees and come into your fold with hands alongside your feet or fingertips on the ground. Work toward straight legs as you squeeze the block, like your legs are a panini press and the block is a sandwich. This trains your adductors, or inner thigh muscles, for Tittibhasana, the peak pose in this Yogapedia entry.
Get more tips from Budig in October’s Yogapedia
5. Wake Up Your Warrior: Strike this New Lightning Variation
The 10-minute home practice section is our #1 go-to when the Yoga Journal mag hits our desks. Baptiste Power Flow teacher and cover model Leah Cullis offered an innovative version of Warrior III called Lightning Warrior that grabbed our attention this month. The arms stretch back and awake while the legs lunge like Crescent. The unexpected combo made for alignment so unusual it kicked us out of routine mode right onto the mat. Here’s to rethinking your Warrior and giving it some end-of-year oomph!
Reach Your Arms back along your sides and spread your fingers wide. Lift your back knee up and hover your chest at a 45-degree angle. Extend through your back heel and reach through the crown of the head to create a long line of energy. Hug your outer shins in toward your centerline and you’re your low belly up and in.
Get more tips from Leah Cullis’s December Home Practice
6. Conquer Inversion Fears with Tripod Egg (Yes, we said Tripod Egg)
There is a reason yoga is empowering. Because as an adult you may never make the Pinterest-worthy cake pops or be on the front page of the newspaper, but you can pull off miracles, learn to do things you never thought you’d do (see Slide 3 for the Jump Through!) and conquer fears you didn’t know you had like going upside down. But as every well-trained yoga teacher will say, turning your world upside down now and again is wonderful for seeing life anew. Need a point of view? Take Two Fit Moms tips on owning inversions.
Tripod Dolphin Pose
Keep your fingers spread wide, hug your elbows toward your sides, and keep your shoulder blades drawn down your back toward your tailbone to lengthen your spine. Hold for 5 breaths.
From Tripod Dolphin, bring one knee onto your tricep while maintaining your form, then the other knee to the other tricep.
Get more tips from Two Fit Moms’ Inversion Preps for Beginners
7. Detoxasana: Boost a Pose’s Cleanse Factor with Strategic Block Use
Yogis looking to rid their system of toxins after overindulgence can go the route of elaborate, mail-ordered, and meticulously planned (read: pricey) cleanses or turn to a weapon every practitioner has in their arsenal: the faithful block. This wise use for a classic prop from teacher Liz Lindh stands out as one we’ll keep in our bag of yoga tricks. But be careful: This belly flop–looking pose is wonderful for activating digestion and increasing female reproductive health by removing blockages.
Belly on Block
How to Do It: From Downward-Facing Dog, lower onto all fours. Place a block on your mat the low wide way and lie down on top of it. Align the block below your belly button. This is a very intense sensation, especially the first time you do it. Rest here for about a minute breathing slowly and deeply. Then press back into Child’s Pose for a minute to allow the increased circulation to bring your body into balance.
Get more cleansing tips from 8 Detoxifying Poses and Kundalini Kriyas
8. Light Up from the Inside Out: Lunge to Align Your Lower Chakras
Experts always give us asana-rattling ideas for unleashing new vibrations from these crafty epicenters of energy. And those tips especially come in handy for calming and controlling our emotional selves when we’re provoked by too much life and not enough yoga. This low lunge variation using a wall has a wow factor you’ll feel. Go as deep or shallow as you can in the supported backbend, staying close to your breath as your guide. Then let us know how whiz-bang your whole circulatory system feels after this trio of lower body chakras lights your inner self all aglow.
Low Lunge with Backbend
Maintain this stability, strength, and balance in the lower body as you inhale and bring your arms alongside your ears. Stay here if the stretch is intense enough. Or to deepen, bring the back of the hands or palms to the wall behind you, making an effort to keep the lower ribs pulled in (i.e. don’t let them pop out). If you are craving an even deeper stretch, walk your hands down and bring your forearms to rest on the wall. Wherever you land take 5 deep breaths. Lam, vam, ram.
Get more tips from Claire Missingham’s Flow to Balance Your Lower Chakras
9. Yoga-Speak Decoded: How Exactly to Stop Hyperextending
A lot of you reading this are hyperextenders and know it, but not all of us are in yoga to protect our joints (especially if we are hot, sweaty, and eager to show the world that we’ve got showy moves). Going to your edge and trying hard are sometimes the antithesis of what a yoga flow is about. To keep yourself safe and your joints lubricated (without blowing them out), take this micro-move to heart and then into the studio. It’s a handy tip for every single pose—as well as the rest of life off the mat. Don’t lock your knees, rely on those tough thighs and major muscle groups to help you stand tall and strong. Hint: If you have found stability in hyperextension, this tip will change your life and your practice. Be prepared to feel destabilized and work with your teacher to understand you are building new strength reserves.
Another Way to Say “Don’t Hyperextend”
“Straighten your knees. Now engage the muscles at the back of your leg as if you’re trying to bend your knee slightly, as you firm the muscles above your kneecap to keep your knee straight.”
Hyperextenders must learn to contract their hamstrings and calf muscles (which bend the knee) enough to straighten it and then maintain that effort while using the quadriceps to keep the knee straight. It’s as if you’re letting the muscles that bend and straighten the knee duke it out in a fist fight. But neither wins. It’s a stalemate, and the knee stays straight and supported from both sides. No matter your level of flexibility, you can benefit from that stability.
Get more of Alexandria Crow’s tips in Alignment Cues Decoded: “Microbend the Knee”
10. It’s So Simple, It’s Hard: Take Siddhasana
There is a reason Siddhasana is called Adept Pose. First of all, you have successfully lost your ego if you have learned to appreciate the simplicity, depth, and profound benefits of sitting still. If you can add the first sutra “Chitta Vritti Nirodiha” and chant it quietly until it becomes a vibration rather than a series of words, bliss will be yours.
Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose)
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. If your knees are higher than your hips, prop yourself up on a blanket or two. Rest your palms on your knees, and on an inhalation, lengthen the spine, reaching up through the crown of your head. Close your eyes and draw your attention inward, practicing Apa Japa, or breath awareness. Try not to change the way you are breathing; instead, follow a natural rhythm. Focus on the length of the inhalations and exhalations. Notice the breath com- ing in through the nostrils and into your lungs. Feel the expansion and contraction of your ribs as you breathe in and out. This will help you feel present in your body and life, and grounded and connected to your center during this chaotic time of year. Sit here and breathe for at least 2 minutes.
Get more tips in 7 Restorative Poses to Stay Grounded During the Holidays